While the uncertain futures of quarterbacks Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and Dak Prescott have dominated the NFL offseason headlines, there is another storyline worth tracking ahead of the start of the 2020 free agent period with regard to the future of a former Pro Bowl player. On Wednesday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Falcons are “weighing their options” when it comes to the future of running back Devonta Freeman, who has three years remaining on a five-year, $41,250,000 million extension he signed with the Falcons just before the start of the 2017 season. Freeman, who will celebrate his 28th birthday next month, averaged just 3.6 yards per carry last season with the Falcons, a year after he missed 14 games due to injury.
“It sounds like it’s pretty much up in the air in Atlanta, and would certainly be an option for the Atlanta Falcons to release him,” said Raopoport, who added that the Falcons looked into trading Freeman before last year’s deadline.
Rapoport added that the Falcons may look into trading Freeman once the league’s new year begins on Mar. 18 if there is potential for a deal — although his bloated salary cap number might make any potential deal unlikely. He noted the Lions were among the teams that were interested in trading for Freeman before last year’s deadline.
“It is something that the Atlanta Falcons are weighing right now,” Rapoport said with regard to the Falcons possibly parting with Freeman, a two-time Pro Bowler who was one of the driving forces behind the team’s 2016 Super Bowl run.
A fourth round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Freeman became a starter in 2015, earning his first of two consecutive Pro Bowl selections that season. Along with receiver Julio Jones and quarterback Matt Ryan, Freeman was part of one of the NFL’s best offensive trios, as the Falcons won 24 games during a two-year span that included three postseason victories and an NFC championship.
Freeman and the Falcons have taken considerable steps backwards since the team’s second half collapse against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. After a dip in production in 2017, Freeman failed to return to form last season following an injury-marred 2018 season, rushing for just 656 yards and two touchdowns as the Falcons missed the playoffs for a second straight season. Freeman did manage to contribute a pass catcher, catching 59 of 70 targets for 410 yards and four touchdowns.
Along with his recent injuries and drop in production, Freeman’s price tag is most likely another reason why the Falcons are reportedly considering parting ways with him. If the Falcons do part with Freeman this offseason, they would save $3.5 million on this year’s salary cap, according to The Athletic’s Jason Butt. And while the Falcons’ current cap space is around $6.1 million (according to Spotrac), the Falcons will surely want more cap space in order to add pieces to their roster via free agency.
Speaking of free agency, the Falcons may choose to go that route to find Freeman’s replacement if they do decide to go in that direction. One free agent option could be Kenyan Drake, who is slated to become a free agent after being traded from Miami to Arizona during the 2019 season. Another option could be veteran running back Frank Gore, who proved in Buffalo last season that he can still contribute in a complementary role. In this situation, the Falcons would likely do what Buffalo did and pair Gore with a young running back.
Regardless of what happens in free agency, the Falcons may still decide to spend one of their 2020 draft picks on the running back position. While defensive help is atop, don’t be surprised if the Falcons spend one of their picks on a running back. Falcons fans should have a better idea at which running backs the teams may be interested in when teams begin meeting with prospects during the upcoming NFL combine in Indianapolis.
When it comes to Freeman, an easy free agent landing spot prediction is Detroit, assuming the Lions are still interested in him. Another option could be the Steelers, who, according to team president Art Rooney II, may be in the market for a veteran running back to help complement James Conner and second year back Benny Snell.